Tech review: Naim Mu-so 2 Wireless speaker
€1,499 from Harvey Norman
One of the most common questions I get is: What is a decent wireless speaker for my house?
Usually what people want to hear is that there is something similar in quality to what used to be known as a stereo in countless living rooms across Ireland.
My answer almost always depends on the budget, listening habits and space available to the person asking the question.
But if someone can afford a real treat, Naim's new Mu-so Second Generation is it.
I should preface the rest of this review by saying that I own the original Naim Mu-so home speaker.
It sits in my home because of its combination of modernity and audio chops.
So I was curious as to what the second generation model would bring.
Out of the box, it's almost identical to the first one: a flat, rectangular, heavy, metal speaker with an elegant control dial and a (deliberately) uneven wavy speaker grille.
This is fine. The first Mu-so is pretty gorgeous, with a northern European aesthetic, rather than a more technically showy Asian one.
But there are one or two small physical differences. Naim has added an extra socket at the back, apparently for those who want to use the Mu-so 2 as a very fancy TV sound bar. (This did not occur to me.)
As a digital music aid, the Mu-so is generally very good.
It supports AirPlay, Spotify Connect, Google Cast and Tidal, meaning you can go right into your digital music subscription and play directly to the speaker without risking any further audio degradation over Bluetooth - if you're really into your audio standards.
There is a small, basic remote control which works fine.
However, I mostly controlled it either by hand or using the Naim app on my phone (Android and iOS).
Multi-room audio fans, such as those who swear by Sonos speakers, will be interested to hear that the Mu-so 2 is backward-compatible with the Mu-so for multi-room listening.
Some of the small effects are appreciated. When your hand comes close to the device, its controls auto-illuminate. This is very useful in a dimly lit situation.
What of its most important facet, the audio quality? To my ears, it's quite similar.
Naim says the vast majority of the components inside are new.
And it may be that a clinical test can pick out much more exact audio details.
But it just sounds wonderful.
There really aren't too many downsides to the Mu-so 2. If I were to nitpick, I might say that the only really modern thing it doesn't support natively is voice control.
To be fair, not many good hi-fi systems do.
But after two years of having smart speakers in the house, I've become used to 'asking' for an artist or a song out loud, not to mention radio stations.
So what I have done with the Mu-so I own is to plug in a small Amazon Echo Dot to the Mu-so's 3.5mm audio-in port. Thus, I can use Alexa and hear the results out of the beautifully large Mu-so.
Hi-fi purists will wince at the approach, but I find it to be practical.
Obviously there's also the price. €1,500 places this firmly in the 'premium luxury' basket of things you might want.
Ironically, 10 years ago this kind of budget might well have been considered somewhat normal for a home hi-fi system.
Indeed, the place of hi-fi and speakers has changed arguably more than any other major electronics item in our lives.
When I first left home for an apartment, a hi-fi and speakers was one of the top three pieces of expenditure.
I remember forgoing a sofa to prioritise purchasing one, with special shelves for a CD collection.
It couldn't be more different today. Most now just stream from their phone's online music subscription to a Bluetooth speaker.
And, with one or two exceptions, that speaker generally costs under €300.
The Naim Mu-so 2 is definitely an exception.
It can do all of the modern Bluetooth speaker's tricks - bar one, which I'll get to below - while still delivering something close to what I wanted when I first splashed out on separate amps, CD players and speakers almost 20 years ago.
Finally, a general point about speakers.
While I love the Mu-so, it is indisputably a luxury. The richness and depth of the sound give me pleasure, but I'm not a hi-fi snob.
You don't need to spend €1,500 to enjoy music, even music at decent quality. We have a €120 Amazon Echo Plus in the kitchen and it's great - easily good enough for the way we listen to music there.
The value in buying something like the Mu-so 2 is for the same reason you would opt for an Oled screen over an LCD one on a smartphone, or why you might choose leather seats in a car over cloth ones.
It may only marginally change the actual device's functionality.
But it might be enough to give you a significant extra sense of joy. It's just a question of what that extra bit is worth. It will be different for everyone.
But if you like that depth in your audio and want something sleek and modern that connects to a phone, tablet or Echo, the Mu-so 2 is absolutely fantastic.